Recently Reid and I had an extensive conversation in which we covered a whole range of subjects including his diverse creative background, the production company he and Channing Tatum have, the stunning success of Magic Mike, the craft of screenwriting, and much more.
Scott: All right, let’s start with the whole education thing. Harvard undergrad, NYU for film directing.
Reid: Indeed. I only went to NYU for about three‑quarters of a semester because I dropped out. I went to Harvard for undergraduate, and then I went to NYU after I had developed a script with Kimberly Peirce. It sold right in the middle of my first semester there, so I dropped out and we went and made it.
Scott: That was “Stop‑Loss?”
Reid: Indeed, that was the first thing I’ve ever worked on in the business.
Scott: Let’s just jump back a bit. At what point did you catch the movie bug?
Reid: Oh, man, when I was really young. Even still to this day my mother watches two movies before she goes to sleep at night. It’s like everyone goes to sleep, and she’s up watching old movies, and she was… Her and her mom, my grandmother, took me to movies since I was a kid. All the time we’d go. Even my mom, I don’t know how old I was when these movies came out, but 14, 15 years old, she’s like, “Oh, let’s go see “Sleepers” in the theater.” Or, “Hey, this movie “Seven” came out. Let’s go see it.”
She would take me to everything and it was intuitive to me after probably I was 10 or 11 years old, when I said, “I have to do this.” Probably after I saw “Jurassic Park” or something like that. [laughs]
Scott: Did you study film at Harvard?
Reid: I did, yeah. I don’t know what studying film at Harvard means. I really loved their documentary department, and that’s within this thing called “Visual Environment and Environmental Studies” which is the degree that I ultimately got. They have this weird department that you have to apply to be into, and it’s for people who are pre‑architecture, fine arts, things like that. Then they have this small film division in the basement of the building. They have all these old Steinbeck editing suites, and stuff like that. Rob Moss, and Ross McElwee were these two incredible documentary filmmakers that run that.
You have these small classes with them so I got to sit there, and make movies with these guys who were my heroes of documentary film making, and then also Hal Hartley. I did a whole seminar with Hal, where he helped me make my first short. Outside of that, film studies at Harvard is all theoretical. Unless you’re in those classes where you’re actually practicing with those directors, and they’re quite small, where you’re basically out making stuff.
They give you a camera, and you just go do whatever. If you’re purely studying film theory there, which I tried not to do, it’s a total theoretical thing. I couldn’t get into it. It’s all film criticism stuff, so I tried to divert away from that, and divert into just the making stuff part of it.
Scott: Where did you learn screenwriting then?
Reid: It was really Kimberly Pierce. I was writing in college, but when I go back and look at that stuff, what I love about it, is I felt like there were no boundaries to what I could write, and how I could write it. It was all intuitive. Some of the stuff, I can look back on it, and say “That’s my most creative work.” I want to go back, and figure out a way to manifest it into something that could actually be made for a populace audience. I really learned it from working with Kim, because she so adheres to traditional Greek structure, so she really put me through a boot camp about what that is. I think in some ways that regimented my thinking a little bit more, so I’ve had to break out of it. In other ways, that is what really taught me how to write for an audience, and not just to write for myself. I think that’s an important distinction.
They don’t teach you that in school…not in my school. I’m sure they teach it at USC and UCLA, places like that. NYU, I had a really good screenwriting teacher, but I just didn’t have a chance to really learn from her.
At Harvard, that didn’t really exist. There wasn’t anyone that really taught you how to do that. It was more experimental filmmaking, film criticism, where does a film fit in the history of moviemaking, which is stuff that I’m not really…I don’t want to be that concerned about that.
Scott: When you talk about Greek structure, you mean Aristotle’s “Poetics”.
Reid: Exactly. That’s the book that, I’ll go back and read that every year, at least, on a plane ride or something. Kim, when I first met her, the first night, she gave me a list of all her favorite books about storytelling, and she said, “Read these, and when you’re done reading them, then we can have conversations.” I said, “OK, great.” I went off and read them. She indoctrinated me into how to think about story.
Scott: Do you remember what some of those titles were?
Reid: Yeah. The “Poetics” is really the one that really stood out. “On Directing” by Kazan, just his book about directing, where he talks about stories, another favorite of mine. She gave me, now I’m blanking on the title, but this book by Groucho Marx, or it was his essays. I loved that. It was none of the stuff like McKee…I’ve read all that stuff, and “Save the Cat,” and all that. She was more interested in either transcripts of speeches or books by directors and screenwriters talking about their craft. When she was at Columbia, she digested all this stuff. I’ve actually got the list somewhere. The stuff that I still keep with me is the “Poetics” and “On Directing.” I just love that book. I’m a big Kazan fan.
Scott: Yeah, I’ve got both of them right here in my office.
Reid: Oh, really? That book…I know he was a son of a bitch, but oh man, that guy…he’s a very, very smart thinker about his craft.
Scott: So you’re at NYU. You’re writing this script “Stop‑Loss,” it sells, then it’s bye‑bye MFA, hello, Hollywood.
Reid: Yeah, it was tough, because I had…Kim and I had developed this. Mark Richard, who’s a wonderful short story/novelist came in and really wrote the script, and we developed it with him. When they finally sold it and made the deal, I became a producer on the project. Part of me said, “OK…” I was down there working on the script every day, but I thought, “Should I be directing and writing my own stuff at school, or should I take this opportunity to go down there and work on this thing, where I’d really be able to sit and watch other people do it every day? What’s the better choice? I don’t know if there is a better choice.
I just chose that because I had invested so much time in creating that story that it felt like, even if I wasn’t directing and writing it and everything myself, it was a good opportunity to see how it all worked.
Still to this day, part of me goes, “I wonder what I would have done had I stayed in school and started just making things on my own. Would I have found my way back to where I’m at now?” But I would never second‑guess the choice, because that’s where I met Channing [Tatum], who’s my partner, and Joe Gordon‑Levitt, and all the other people that have become my best friends and collaborators in the business, so it was good for that reason.
Scott: ”Stop‑Loss,” a 2008 Paramount movie about a soldier who returns from his completed tour of duty in Iraq only to be ordered back to the field of duty. You were technically listed as associate producer on that. What was the nature of your involvement in that project beyond the script phase?
Reid: I pretty much did everything on that movie. I shot some scenes and directed some…They have these non‑traditional video sequences in the film that were supposedly shot by the soldiers while they’re at war. We use this as a device to go back into their experience. I would shoot those, operate the camera. While the other things were going on, we literally dressed the guys up in costume. I’d go, “Let’s not wait in the green room anymore, the trailer. Let’s go out and shoot some stuff in the streets. That’ll be fun.”
That’s how I developed relationships with Channing and Joe and everybody else. We could be making this stuff on the side while the other stuff was being shot. There were so many people constantly around them in that movie. It was the nature of it being an ensemble. Also, a bunch of young guys who were my age and was a fun environment.
I was doing that. I was sitting there, re‑writing scenes, printing them out, bringing them to the actor. During the scene, we had a constantly evolving script. Kim likes to listen to the actors as they’re going along, re‑write as you go. I was doing a lot of that.
That was a really intense, long, tough production. I got thrown into the fire on every aspect of it. It was a great learning experience. I pretty much had my hand in every aspect of it.
Scott: That’s where you met Channing?
Reid: Yeah, exactly.
Scott: How soon after that did you and Channing create your production company?
Reid: We started it a while after. We stayed friends after that movie and we hung out a lot, and we talked a lot. After that movie was done, I moved to New York, moved back to New York. I was doing some work for Amy Powell, who’s the Senior Vice President of Interactive Marketing, Digital Marketing at Paramount.
She hired me because I happened to go to school with the kids that created Facebook, and I was kind of…just because I was kind of into that stuff at that time, she hired me to run some digital campaigns for them, as they were just trying to get into that business. I moved to New York, I did some work for them, tried to figure out what the next thing would be.
I decided actually to go to Rwanda and make a documentary with Deborah Scranton, an incredible documentary filmmaker who I had met during the promotion of “Stop‑Loss,” and so I did that. Then after that is when Channing and I started our company. As I was editing that movie, we decided to do our thing.
Scott: Let’s talk about that documentary, “Earth Made of Glass”. That’s about France’s role in the Rwanda genocide?
Reid: Indeed, yes. Actually, really, the core story is, it’s about a genocide survivor whose entire family was murdered during the genocide. 15 years later, he never knew what happened, or he never had closure, or figured out who the killers were, et cetera. 15 years later, he goes back and he finds the killer of his father and figures out what the story of how his father was killed was, and we end up finding the place where he was killed and digging up the bones and having a proper funeral for him. As we’re telling that micro story, we’re also telling the macro story about…We’re following the president of the country, Paul Kagame, and why not only did the genocide take place, but what is the common knowledge about why it took place, and really what happened behind the scenes in order for that many people to turn on each other and start killing each other.
There’s got to be something more than just, “We’re all upset because you’re Hutus and you’re Tutsis,” and that’s what the macro story was. It was investigating who’s inciting this incident, and why was our main character, Jean‑Pierre’s family killed, and what were the events, politically speaking, that contributed to that?
We were trying to tell these two interweaving narratives, macro and micro, about the Rwandan genocide. It’s probably the best thing I’ll ever work on, to be honest. It’s a great movie, really well structured, incredible characters, and that movie magic that only happens once in a lifetime when you have a character that goes through something on camera like our main character did.
The only trouble is that because it’s about Rwanda, it’s really tough to find an audience. We were lucky to be able to sell it to HBO. I love the documentary business. It’s just such a tough business to get by in.
Scott: ”Stop‑Loss,” “Earth Made of Glass”. Is it fair to say you have political interests?
Reid: Definitely. Most of the movies that I love…I love a lot of movies. But most of the movies that I find have a lasting impact on culture are not necessarily political movies, but they’re movies that are reacting to our world. For me, I care less about whether it’s political or whether it’s taking a side, but I care more about whether it’s speaking to something worth thinking about or talking about as a culture.
I really do believe that it’s a responsibility of the art form, at least it used to be. I think some people feel that movies are diminishing in importance, as far as their cultural relevance is concerned, but I still believe there is a responsibility to push for stories that are reacting to things that are going on in our world.
Like with the Rwandan genocide, we were rehashing something that happened 15 years ago, but we felt like we were bringing new information to the table. As far as a documentary is concerned, it’s hard to find an audience anyway, so we decided, “Screw it. The story’s too good. If we find an audience, great. If not, we still have to do this.”
Please stop by comments to thank Reid and ask any questions you may have.
Reid is repped by UTA.